By Guest Blogger Giacomo Tagiuri
In the final days of the US election campaign, my home country of Italy has stepped into a cameo role. It is, to be sure, the role of a villain. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has invoked Italy as the kind of bad example that America should do everything possible to avoid. Even so, as an Italian accustomed to a diminishing presence in the international debate, I have been amused and even a little proud.
By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs
The collective punditry has rendered a near-unanimous verdict on the presidential debate in Denver last night: Mitt Romney won it. Romney was sharp, engaged and composed – maybe a tad over-aggressive at times but clearly comfortable in his own skin. President Obama looked – to many of us, anyway – like he would have much preferred to be somewhere else.
This was no real surprise, except perhaps in the magnitude of Romney’s advantage. Despite many other flaws as a candidate, Romney had proved himself a strong debater against his Republican primary opponents. Set debates have never been Obama’s strength; he tends to behave like a professor in a seminar, rather than a debater prepared for battle.
How much it matters is another question. The narrative of September had been harsh for the Romney campaign. The Republican had a flat nominating convention; Obama’s was judged a resounding success (notwithstanding the president’s own rather flat acceptance speech). In the weeks that followed, Romney stumbled through a knee-jerk attack on the White House in the very hours that US diplomats were under attack and dying in the Middle East. Then surfaced the secretly recorded video of Romney telling wealthy supporters that
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what … who are dependent on government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Attacking almost half of Americans was unlikely to win him new supporters, and polling evidence shows that it didn’t. Moreover, though the margins have remained close, Romney had not pulled ahead in polling averages since the beginning of the year, a highly unusual problem for a challenger. In key swing states like Ohio, meanwhile, Obama has built what look like insurmountable leads.
Romney’s supporters will be heartened by last night’s performance, which may well resuscitate his campaign. Historical evidence speaks against turning a debate win into an electoral win, however. To take one of many examples: former vice president Walter Mondale was widely viewed as the winner against an apparently distracted Ronald Reagan in their first 1984 debate; Reagan went on to take 49 out of 50 states. (It is true that 73-year-old Reagan in a second debate delivered a decisive blow with the joke: ‘I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.’ But this only reinforced the truth that substantial mastery of issues in a formal debate is rather beside the point).
Romney’s apparent victory carried a certain irony insofar as he probably won this debate by abandoning a very substantial philosophical and policy debate that the 2012 presidential campaign has – against many expectations – actually provided. It concerns genuine and deep-seated disagreements about the relationship of state and society in the United States. Republicans have latched on to an Obama speech of some months ago in which he argued – echoing Harvard law professor and now Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren – that individuals’ economic success rests on a broader community effort. Businesses are possible because of the infrastructure, the education, the regulation and the social safety net that only government can provide. Such an argument only restated the consensus philosophy that emerged from FDR’s New Deal response to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Obama in this particular speech had slightly garbled the message – so he could be represented, tendentiously and out of context, as denying all credit to businessmen and -women for their own success. But leaving this misrepresentation aside, there remains a real philosophical divide. Conservatives seem genuinely offended by the (in historical terms rather mild) communitarian instincts of the president and his party. Romney’s ‘47%’ riff was an extreme expression of this underlying belief that real freedom is a matter of economic freedom and economic success, and that both are threatened by Obama’s commitment to the welfare state and progressive taxation.
One reason that Romney won last night’s staged debate is that he left this underlying debate aside. It was the ‘Return of Massachusetts Mitt,’ as Jonathan Chait put it: a return of the former Governor’s at-least-temperamental moderation for which Obama and his team were arguably unprepared. Romney is still unlikely to win on 6 November, but if he does win it will be by successfully burying that larger debate – a debate that he was losing.
The 2012 US presidential election will be won or lost on the economy, so it was no surprise that at the Republican National Convention (RNC), jobs and healthcare dominated – but foreign policy did make an appearance, with Mitt Romney devoting three minutes of a 39-minute speech to the issue. Neither his platform nor his speech suggest specific alternatives to President Barack Obama if he were to take office, but he has been distinguishing himself Obama in other ways in his election campaign: defence cuts and the role of the military in future foreign policy and, relatedly, the role of US leadership. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a case to be made for a Republican national security policy, but Mitt Romney has yet to make it, writes IISS-US Executive Director Andrew Parasiliti in the Huffington Post. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 52% of those surveyed thought Obama ‘would better handle’ foreign affairs than Romney, who tallied just 40%, and Romney’s recent overseas trip didn’t exactly burnish his foreign-policy credentials. Parasiliti argues that Romney needs more than ‘tired conservative platitudes designed primarily for the Republican base’ – in which he insists he is ‘tougher on Iran, a better friend to Israel, a more formidable adversary to Russia and China, and a bigger spender on defence’ – and should expand on a theme from a speech he gave last month: ‘A healthy American economy is what underwrites American power.’ Parasiliti points out that the same USA Today/Gallup that put Obama on top in foreign affairs put Romney ahead on the deficit and the economy. This pointed to an electoral advantage for the Republicans if they ‘develop and expand on this link between the economy and national security’.
By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival
Mitt Romney’s now infamous gaffes during a day in London, awkward though they have been, are not the stuff of huge diplomatic significance. His problem is that the whole trip – with stops in Israel and Poland as well as London – was premised on the alleged problem of the incumbent president’s incompetence and indifference in nurturing important alliances. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, the UK visit ‘was supposed to have been a restoration of the “special relationship,” a goal that nestled comfortably into the general right-wing accusation that Obama spits in the faces of our friends even as he comforts our enemies.’
Instead, Romney ran into the buzz-saw of the British press, which Chait describes as ‘an outrage-generating machine the likes of which we American reporters can only gaze upon with awe’. As an American in London, I know what he’s talking about. In September 2009, a BBC producer called me at home asking if I could go on camera to talk about President Barack Obama’s ‘snub’, in New York the previous day, to then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival
Last week was another bad one for the euro, with the eruption of a particular brand of pique that I’m frankly surprised we haven’t seen more of. At the G20 meeting in Mexico, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, reacted badly to a Canadian journalist’s question about why North Americans should ‘risk their assets’ to support the Europeans. ‘Frankly’, replied Barroso, ‘we are not here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy. This crisis was not originated in Europe … this crisis originated in North America and much of our financial sector was contaminated by, how can I put it, unorthodox practices from some sectors of the financial market.’
Barroso was right, of course, and he was also spectacularly wrong. He was right about the origins of the crisis, and he might have added something about long-running imbalances of American over-borrowing against Chinese over-saving that fed the housing bubble. But this would have raised the awkward parallel problem of chronic imbalances within the eurozone, such as those that fed Spain’s real-estate bubble. Except in the relatively minor case of Greece, government spending had little to do with it.
Writing in Al-Monitor, Executive Director, IISS-US, and Corresponding Director, IISS-Middle East, Dr Andrew Parasiliti, examines the results of new opinion polls, which suggest that Barack Obama would win the national security debate against presidential hopeful Mitt Romney if elections were held today. While Afghanistan and Iraq are likely winners for the president and losers for Romney, Iran is still a toss up—and may prove to be the international issue that provokes the most consequential debate of the presidential campaign.